3D Prototyping Using Additive 3D Printing

by Matthew Wellington on January 6, 2013

3d Prototyping3D Prototyping, also known as Rapid Prototyping, is the process of modelling a product or part digitally, using CAD (Computer-Aided Design).

The data representation of the object is normally transferred to a 3D printer, which reads the CAD data sent by the designer and thereafter converts it into a tangible prototype.

The process of fabricating the model often involves depositing consecutive layers on top of each other, from bottom to top, until the whole prototype is complete. This is why it is commonly referred to as ‘Additive 3D Printing’ or ‘Additive Manufacturing’.

Many industries today are quickly starting to adopt the use of 3D prototyping because it helps designers to quickly turn their design ideas into physical prototypes. As a result it becomes easy to fabricate models, make the necessary modifications and most importantly; reduce flaws when it comes to the actual production of the final product.

How 3D Printing Works

The process of fabricating a three-dimensional prototype starts by first creating a geometric representation of the product in three dimensions, which is what we call the ‘CAD Data’. Once the data is ready, it can then be sent to a three dimensional printer.

3D printers are a special kind of printer that has the capacity to read CAD data. The machine will then deposit materials layer by layer starting from the bottom until the entire object is formed. Usually the materials used in most 3D printers are either in powder or liquid form, so depending on the particular material you are using, the printer will fuse the new layers to the old ones by melting and depositing new layers of materials.

Mostly it should only take a few hours to get the end product you are looking for. But the greater the size of object you want to create, the longer the time it may take to fabricate it.

Benefits of 3D Prototyping

Now the big question is how does 3D prototyping compare to the classical mass-manufacturing approach? Actually, this technology can revolutionize the manufacturing scene in quite a number of ways.

Speed

One of the greatest challenges that mass manufacturing possess today, is the long time durations spent on making prototypes. Most prototypes and models take days to be completed. Additive manufacturing on the other hand is fast and efficient and 3D prototyping takes only a couple of hours. Consequently a lot of time saved is in turn spent in increasing production.

Cost Effective Option

3D prototyping is also a cheaper alternative compared to mass manufacturing. To begin with, since most of the work is done by three dimensional additive printers, the manufacturer can greatly cut down on the number of labourers employed. The money saved can be used to buy more machines and equipment that are necessary for increasing production.

Moreover, statistics show that 3D objects are more than 50% lighter than products made through conventional manufacturing techniques. This implies that a lot more material is wasted in the traditional manufacturing approach than in 3D printing and prototyping.

Comprehensive 3D Prototyping

The reason why 3D prototyping is more likely to reduce production flaws is due to the fact that 3D prototypes are more comprehensive. Since a design idea can be quickly translated into an object, manufacturers are able to identify issues in prototypes immediately, improve on their design ideas and finally create an ideal prototype to be used in production.

Besides, the comprehensive nature of 3D prototypes often carries along an appealing allure because they communicate a lot. Thus it is, for instance, less taxing to explain to potential sponsors or investors what your product is all about and get them to perfectly understand you, hence you can obtain business sponsorships easily.

Intricate and Innovative Designs

3D Printing Services eliminate a lot of barriers in product design, allowing designers to make challenging designs out of their innovative ideas. Designers can therefore make complex designs and turn them to physical objects without a lot of hassle.

Additive manufacturing further makes it possible to create countless design variations of a product, determine the best prototype and then fabricate your customized object exactly as you had thought of in your mind. So looking at it from consumers’ perspective, 3D prototyping and printing will go a long way to increase customer satisfaction.

Important Things to Know

While this may seem overly simplistic, provided you have a 3D printer at home, it is possible to create your own objects. But the trick here is you need to know how to create data that is readable by an additive printer. For this reason, obtaining CAD Software will be integral.

Fortunately, there are many three dimensional modeling tools on the market, so by getting your hands on the right tools you can easily create and print a 3D prototype. Software like the Google Sketchup should serve you well; but depending on your needs, you may want to carry out some research in order to find software that you’ll be comfortable using.

Currently however, most additive printers use powder or liquefied polymers, a factor that limits the size of object they can produce. Bear in mind that very large objects require stronger materials, for example metal, hence at the moment it may be quite challenging to make a sturdy 3D prototype using this technology.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that 3D Prototyping Technology is still faced with a number of challenges, its benefits far exceed its downsides. What’s more, there are many advancements that are being worked on to improve this technology as we speak.

For instance, a lot of effort is being made to reduce the rather expensive cost of acquiring 3D printers. At the moment the cheapest printer costs about £1200 but for higher end models the price can go way above £28,000.

This is expensive considering the economic turbulence that a large segment of the population has to live by. But there are a lot of plans underway to Reduce 3D Printer Prices to approximately £300, to see to it that the machines are easily accessible to everyone.

As a result, in the near future, people will be downloading objects from the internet and fabricating them in the comfort of their homes. You will be able to create and customize anything from shoes to car parts (along with a whole lot of other products) to your own specifications and create them in a matter of hours.

As if that’s not enough, 3D printing will immensely lower the cost of some products by eradicating the need to ship them across the world. This would be revolutionary not only to the manufacturing industry, but also retail. Businesses in these sectors would need to think of radical ways to adapt to the change, possibly eliminating mass-manufacturing for good, and offering highly customised products that are not already available for download.

I hope you enjoyed this post about 3D prototyping and if you have any questions or anything to add then feel free to leave a comment below.

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